In 2008, Sparks released the song Lighten Up, Morrissey – an arched eyebrow nod to Stephen Patrick’s reputation as indie music’s greatest curmudgeon.
Some 10 years later, Baltimore rapper JPEGMAFIA has a song on his new album called I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies. It’s a pure troll move, but it’s a song that could only come out now. Morrissey seems to be going through a period of self-sabotage that’s testing the patience of even the most fervent disciples.
The knives were being loudly sharpened way before the release of his 2017 album Low In High School. For a man who once sang Bigmouth Strikes Again in The Smiths, Morrissey has been playing trigger bingo with his fanbase, the press and anyone with a working wtf-ometer. In the last 12 months alone, he has seemed to defend Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Brexit, and launched a t-shirt last year featuring the lyrics “black is how I feel on the inside’, and a picture of US black civil rights activist James Baldwin. Add these to his lower-level crimes, like his novel List of the Lost and refusing to play when it was too cold on stage (in California).
It’s a pity Low In High School has been overshadowed by Morrissey’s foot-in-mouth, with all the reviews predictably leading with his antics in the press. Like his 2014 album World Peace Is None of Your Business, his voice is still straight-up magnificent, and it’s full of sonic left turns and striking arrangements – from the avant-garde pop of Spent the Day in Bed, the new wave stomp of I Wish You Lonely and Who Will Protect Us From the Police?
And if you’re complaining about Morrissey turning sour, he can present you with exhibit A – his whole 34-year recording history, even if below the self-curated miserable exterior, Morrissey’s droll lyrics are maybe the wittiest in all of popular music.
He’s also a heritage act who refuses to be backed into a nostalgia corner. Don’t go to a Morrissey gig these days if you think time stopped at Viva Hate. Of course he plays Suedehead, Speedway, Every Day Is Like Sunday, and the still-miraculous Smiths song How Soon Is Now?, but Morrissey is stuck on his most recent albums. At a time when the Rolling Stones would be bottled off for playing two new songs in a row, it’s a bold move, even if casual fans would pay double on their tickets for a holy grail setlist full of Smiths songs.
But Morrissey doesn’t really do it for the casuals – he does it for himself and the Moz disciples. Maybe his boldest live move in recent years was playing Meat Is Murder near the end of the set at 3Arena last time, with graphic footage of cattle slaughterhouses.
In 2006, Morrissey was voted Britain’s second greatest living icon, after David Attenborough, with Paul McCartney in third. He might have slipped a few places since, but he’ll still be up there as one of the most singular artists of the last 30-odd years. And when he takes a bow in the 3Arena and throws his shirt into the crowd, there’ll be a plenty of feral fans fighting over the trophy.
- Morrissey plays Dublin’s 3Arena tonight, February 20
(Irish Daily Star)